Colorado Restaurant Association Awards Shine the Spotlight on Dining Scene Stars

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The Colorado culinary scene sometimes feels like one big family — albeit sometimes a rather incestuous one. And last night's sold-out Colorado Restaurant Association Industry Spotlight awards ceremony at the Ritz Carlton was one hell of a family reunion, as individuals from around the state's scene were honored by their peers...and then turned around and honored other winners.

In picking up the Pinnacol Assurance Restaurant Association Safety Award, for example, Josh Wolkon, co-founder of Vesta Dipping Grill, Steuben’s Foodservice and Ace Eat Serve, took the opportunity to laud restaurant consultant John Imbergamo, who was honored with the Outstanding Professional Signature Dish Award a little later in the evening. In the video intro for that award, I'd said that if France has the five mother sauces, Imbergamo is the "mother sauce that keeps the local food scene cooking"; in response, Imbergamo stated that he'd been "called things that begin with 'mother' before — but never mother sauce." 

The Exceptional Newcomer Signature Dish Award went to Delores Tronco, Tony Maciag and Dana Rodriguez of Work & Class; both Tronco and Rodriguez had worked with Imbergamo at restaurants he represents before opening their own very hot spot in January 2014. (Work & Class also picked up the Best Neighborhood Restaurant award in the Best of Denver 2015.)

The Philanthropist Signature Dish Award went to Daniel Asher of Linger and Root Down, who's given so much time to charity that it's hard to imagine that he's had time to work in his own kitchens, much less help chef/owner Justin Cucci get ready to open Ophelia's next week. (Then again, many of the CRA's other winners have also been incredibly generous with their time and efforts, which is one reason the local restaurant scene feels like such a family.)

Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal, a frequent panelist on Colorado Public Television's Colorado Inside Out and the hardest-working man outside of the restaurant industry, picked up the Outstanding Media Signature Dish Award, an honor that debuted last year — when I was recognized for Westword's long commitment to covering the culinary scene.

The Regional Outstanding Professional Signature Dish Award went to Kenneth Nelson, of Park & Main, Briar Rose Chophouse, Empire Burger and Giampietro Pasta & Pizzeria, all in Summit County; Valerie Baylie, ProStart Teacher with Standley Lake High School, took the Reaching for the Stars Knoebel Award.

The Colorado Foodservice Hall of Fame awards honored some familiar names:

Toshi and Yasu Kizaki opened the Sushi Den more than thirty years ago, and changed the way seafood was regarded in this landlocked city. Their younger brother continues to send fresh fish in from Japan every day.

Karen Kristopeit-Parker joined with the restaurant's chef to buy the Fresh Fish Company in 2004; she'd worked there for decades. And along the way, she'd earned the enmity of anti-ladies' night crusader Steve Horner, and honor she shares with Westword.

Peter M. Meersman, long-time Colorado Restaurant Association director, also joined the Hall of Fame, as did Reginald D. Gray of Resort Development Group. 

All of those winners had been announced in advance. There was one surprise reveal that evening, though: the Richard P. Ayers Award for Distinguished Service. It went to Jim Smith, a longtime CRA mover and shaker who just retired from Republic National Distributing Company, but will stay on as a consultant.

But the real winners are the diners who get to enjoy the result of all the hard work done at Colorado restaurants every day. Read more about the Industry Spotlight awards here.

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